Page images

would a wild enthufiaft have been able to adduce evidence ftrong enough to extort fuch an admiffion from fuch an opponent ?-would a fenfelefs fanatic have been able to use this admiffion with fuch confummate address, united with fuch manly firmness and unaffected dignity, as the apostle displayed in his reply? For Paul faid—“ I would to God that not only "thou, but all who hear me this day, were both almoft "and altogether fuch as I am, except these bonds.". No-to attribute fuch reafoning and fuch conduct to the wild ravings of enthusiasm, is to outrage every feeling of nature, and every principle of truth.



Thus it has, I truft, been fhewn, that the main argument from prophecy was as remote in its origin from enthufiaftic delufion, and as incapable of combining with, or deriving ftrength and fuccefs from fanaticifm in its progrefs, as the proof which miracles fupplied in truth, these two modes of proof were infeparably connected together; there could "have been no poffible pretence for fuppofing, "that Jefus of Nazareth, an obfcure peasant, who "had no one of thefe external characters the Jews "notoriously expected in their Meffiah, and all evi"dence about whom was clofed by his death; there could, I fay, have been no pretence for afferting "fuch a character was the promised Redeemer, of

[ocr errors]

1 Vid. Paley's Evidence of Chriftianity, p. 87, Dublin edit. where this argument is most clearly enforced.


"whom fuch oppofite and fuch magnificent expec"tations had been conceived, except his extraordinary works had marked him out as an extraordi"nary perfonage."-The argument from prophecy, therefore, could not for a moment have been liftened to, except attention had been excited to it by the notoriety of the miracles; but when attended to, it fupplied a new fource of proof, which calm reafon alone could advance or comprehend.

[ocr errors]

Hence it is we find the first preachers of the gospel perpetually uniting these two arguments, to convince their Jewish converts; but it is extremely important to remark, that they urged these arguments on different defcriptions of their hearers, exactly as they were capable of feeling their force. To the Jews it was that they most frequently and earnestly urged the argument from the prophetic writings, because they admitted their authority, were familiarized to their language, and therefore prepared to understand their true meaning.-While to the heathens they generally argued, from the miracles they themselves beheld, or might be affured of by evidence of moft unquestionable certainty; and from the truths of natural religion, which were congenial to the reason and the feelings of every human mind, contrasted with the abfurd and pernicious nature of their idolatry.



* Vide St. Paul's addreffes to the heathens, at Lyftra, Acts xiv. and to the court of Areopagus, at Athens, Acts xvii.


[ocr errors]

Now, let me afk, does not this mode of conducting their caufe, prove not only that it was founded on reafon, but that it was fupported with fobriety of mind? The precipitate and blind zeal of enthusiasm would not attend to such a distinction as this; artifice and imposture would not thus fubmit to every hearer, principally thofe arguments which each would be most easily able to examine, and therefore if they were fallacious, most likely to refute. Affuredly then the apoftles fpoke the words of truth and foberness.


The prophecies delivered by our Saviour, and fuch Predictions of the apostles as are connected with them, are not imputable to enthusiasm.

[ocr errors]

On this fubject of the argument from prophecy, as applied by its first preachers, to spread or to establish the belief of the gofpel, it is neceffary to obferve further, that not only the appeal to the Jewish fcriptures, on which the argument principally depended, could not derive its origin or fuccess from enthusiasm; but that the predictions which are afcribed to our Lord, by the evangelifts, as well as fome inftances of prophecies delivered by his followers, are remarka


bly free from every fufpicion of having been dictated by the spirit of fanaticism.

I readily will admit that enthusiasts are prone to mistake the chimeras of a difordered fancy for the vifions of a prophetic illumination, and to claim credit to the rhapfodies they pour forth, as divine predictions of unquestionable certainty; but fuch a claim can gain little credit, except their authority has been by fome other means previously established. If the fanatic ventures to foretel events immediately approaching, the failure of the prediction will foon destroy the authority of the prophet. If he pretends to penetrate into remote futurity, he will be unable to fatisfy his hearers that he utters infpired predictions, because they cannot witness their accomplishment, and must therefore have fome different proof of his inspiration to induce them to give credence to his words. Thus it feems extremely improbable that an unfupported claim to a prophetic character, though it may originate in enthusiasm, fhould fucceed in spreading it; because the claim to a divine authority is thus reduced to a trial it will feldom be able to endure, a comparison of predictions with facts.

But if for argument fake we fhould admit that the enthusiast may accidentally defcribe fome delufive vision of fancy, which yet may feem to be verified by some subsequent event; of that he may conjecture F fome.

[ocr errors]

fome probable occurrence, and deliver this conjecture in prophetic language, to which he is habituated yet experience proves, that we may always discover in the nature of the fuppofed prophecy, or of its accomplishment, fome traces of fallacy or ex travagance. The prediction is vague and general, or the event fuch as might be easily produced, and therefore eafily forefeen-frequently fo trifling, we cannot conceive it should be worthy of divine interference to prefignify it-frequently so obscure and uncertain, that if we admit the genuineness of the prophecy, we cannot prove its agreement with the event by which it is afferted to have been accomplished.


The prophecies afcribed to our Lord seem remark. ably free from these objections. One is, the 1 prediction of the total destruction of the city and temple of Jerufalem, fo total that "" not one stone should "bé left upon another that fhould not be thrown "down;" attended with circumftances of unequalled mifery-"" for then fhall there be great tribulation, "fuch as was not fince the beginning of the world "to this time, no, nor ever fhall be; then fhall "be great distress upon the land, and wrath upon "this people, and they fhall fall by the edge of the "fword, and fhall be led away captive into all nati



ons, and Jerufalem fhall be trodden down of the


Luke xxi.

• Luke xxi. 24.

1 Vid. Matt. xxiv. Mark xiii. Matt. xxiv. 21.

m Luke xxi. 6.


« PreviousContinue »